Creative chefs are putting the humble root—naturally sweet, beautifully colorful and fantastically inexpensive—into the spotlight. Carrots are ready for their close-up.
By Mary Brown Malouf, Photos by Adam Finkle
Beets, kale, and cauliflower—each of these humble vegetables has had its turn on the culinary stage over the last few years, their earthy, peasant origins gilded in butter and presented in the finest restaurants. The latest vegetable to get the Cinderella treatment: the carrot.
A Colorful History
The wild plant originally found 1,000 years ago in Afghanistan, was a small, white bitter tap root. Over years of human cultivation, as the carrot spread to Europe via Spain, it developed into a large, sweet, yellow or purple root. The Dutch fiddled around with these to come up with the orange carrot, then the French fiddled around with those to come up with the iconic modern sweet orange carrot favored by Bugs Bunny. But a few countries preserved original strains, which have been bred back into the vegetable to produce multi-colored carrots for novelty-loving chefs.
Four fresh ways to enjoy an old favorite:
- Cut them in sticks, roll them in oil with a little salt and chili powder, space them out on a baking sheet and bake until browned. Eat like French fries.
- Cook carrots until soft. Mash them with a potato ricer and a little cream and honey.
- Shred carrots, mix them with an egg, some black pepper and thyme and fry them like latkes, or potato pancakes, until crisp and brown.
- Cut carrots in coins. Put in a jar with several sprigs of dill. Pour hot water and vinegar over them and chill. Serve like pickles.
Main Dish Carrots
- 1 onion, sliced
- 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped or pressed
- 3 Tbsp. olive oil
- 1 1/4 tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. ginger
- 1 tsp. turmeric
- 1/4 tsp. cinnamon
- 1 tsp. black pepper
- 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
- 1 tsp. cumin
- 1 Tbsp. thyme leaves
- 4 or 5 carrots, peeled and cut into 1/4” thick sticks
- 1 cup water (half vegetable or chicken broth, if desired)
- 1 1/2 to 2 cups cooked or canned chickpeas, drained
- 1 cup slivered almonds, toasted
Cook the carrots in the olive oil over fairly high heat until they brown a little. Add the onions and garlic and sauté over low heat for several minutes. Add the salt, spices, herbs, and the water. Cover and simmer over medium-low heat until the carrots are tender–about 25 minutes. When the carrots are tender, add the chickpeas. Continue simmering until the chickpeas are heated through and the sauce is reduced and thick. Stir in 1/2 cup almonds. Taste, adjust seasoning, sprinkle the remainder of the almonds over the top. Garnish with a sprig of thyme.
- Carrots don’t make your hair curly, as many children with stick-straight hair were told. But they do have some other, less cosmetic, benefits.
- Improved Vision: Carrots are rich in beta-carotene, which is converted into vitamin A in the liver. Vitamin A is transformed in the retina, to rhodopsin, a purple pigment necessary for night vision. Beta-carotene may protect against macular degeneration and senile cataracts.
- Healthier Skin: Vitamin A and antioxidants protect the skin from sun damage. Deficiencies of vitamin A cause dryness to the skin, hair and nails. Vitamin A prevents premature wrinkling, acne, dry skin, pigmentation, blemishes, and uneven skin tone. Grated carrots may be mixed with honey for an inexpensive facial mask.
- Healthy Teeth and Gums: Raw carrots clean your teeth and mouth. They scrape off plaque and food particles just like toothbrushes or toothpaste.
- Cleanse: Carrots are a good source of fiber.
How did Chef Phelix Gardner dream up Pago’s glamorous carrot makeover? “This dish actually started from my eating the carrots out of the strained vegetables while I was making demi-glace. They were so rich and tender,” Gardner says. “It made me think of all the other ways that I liked carrots.”
This inspired the chef to develop ways to highlight carrots—an ingredient that he can get locally almost all year round. He decided that instead of thinking about what pairs with carrots, he would focus on all of the different ways there are to enhance their natural flavors. “The next component of building the dish was making it texturally diverse. That is what led us to keeping the pickles crisp and working in a confit that is really tender as well,” he explains.
On the Town
Formerly performing as a regular on the relish tray circuit and playing a supporting role in stews and soups, the carrot has become a headliner on many of Utah’s menus.
Chef Dave Jones roasts heirloom carrots in sherry, and then adds creamy mouthfeel with burrata cheese, contrasting color with carrot tops and piquance with walnut pesto and pickled onions.
6451 E. Millcreek Canyon Rd, SLC, 801-272-8255
Is anyone weary of butternut squash soup yet? Try different roots. Liberty Heights Fresh mixes fennel and carrot in a seasonal soup sans squash.
1290 S. 1100 East, SLC, 801-467-2434
Bread spreads can be an issue if you’re eschewing animal fats, but you may not miss the butter when you order the carrot butter crostini at Sage’s Cafe. The butter is made like a pesto with vegetable oil and nuts.
234 W. 900 South, SLC, 801-322-3790
A wood fire brings out the best in most foods, carrots especially because their natural sugars caramelize. At Finca, they’re drizzled with cumin honey and saffron butter.
327 W. 200 South, SLC, 801-487-0699